Hi Red Center Assemble

[Joyful Noise; 2009]

Styles: indie rock, post-rock, experimental
Others: Dirty Projectors, Man Man, Heavy Vegetable

Must rock be deprived of listener-friendly charms in order to be considered cutting-edge or experimental? For any fans of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, or various other progenitors of avant-rock, the answer should be a resounding "no," but this important truth can often be lost in the quest to out-weird the last release in this now admittedly crowded field. However, NYC's Hi Red Center avoids the trap of equating musical innovation with a painful listening experience by maintaining a certain playfulness and exuding a sense of joy through their creations. Their latest effort, Assemble, has both these qualities in strong supply.

Of course, I'm not labeling them as experimental for nothing. Hi Red Center does not make toe-tapping, head-bobbing rock anthems or chorus-driven pop sing-alongs. Instead, they traffic in irregularly abrupt stops, unexpected time shifts, occasionally cacophonous (but controlled) breakdowns, and often perplexing lyrical phrasings. They certainly don't delve as extremely into noise as many of their contemporaries, but their sonic profile changes from song to song, always keeping the listener guessing. Even with certain consistent elements, like prominent vibraphone, there can be great variance in execution — from the quirkily jagged and sweetly syncopated chug of "Littlest Giant" to the sweetly dilapidated "Lullaby." And yet, they maintain a degree of connectivity, making Assemble seem like the work of a band, not a random collection of compositions.

Or perhaps "work" is the wrong word here. This is obviously a band that does what they do to entertain themselves and their audience. One run-through of "Chicken Gorlet" should prove that to any doubters. The over-driven keyboards, methodically explosive drums, and angular guitar work backs what sounds like the reading of a recipe, delivered with multiple personalities — pleasantly transitioning between a somewhat disaffected spoken tone and an elevated falsetto — until the song breaks into something more like a typical chorus, followed by an abrupt end. Its brevity is a tease, but also perhaps the mark of a disciplined group of merrymakers who know how not to overplay their best cards.

1. Toothless Beau
2. Littlest Giant
3. Symmetry Chameleon
4. Nowheresville
5. Lullaby
6. Chicken Gorlet
7. Trees in a Row
8. Los Olvidados
9. Pipe Dream

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